A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 6

Trump’s model? Government as “dynamic inertia.”

Saturday, March 14 

Another sunny, low-40s day. The birds love it: Our feeder draws a crowd each day, including a brilliant red cardinal who comes early, leaves, and returns later for a crepuscular nosh.

Their seeming happiness and the slightly warmer weather echoes the irony of Camus’ plague account, in which flowers bloom riotously even as the infestation worsens. Why worry—soon it’ll be spring.

The East Hampton library, financed by property taxes, sends e-mail saying that, in accord with the town’s state of emergency, it has closed until further notice. Please keep any books you have checked out, no fines will be levied for overdue items, and many things are available online or as e-books.

Panic shopping prevails across the land. Huge lines form in and around large chain outlets. Store shelves empty of all kinds of goods—canned food, hand sanitizer, cold medicines, and especially toilet paper. At a Walgreens in Massachusetts, a sign says that disinfectant cleaners, face masks, and thermometers are being rationed—and anyway, none of these things are available.

The poshest of New York City restaurants, including 19 eateries of the Union Square Hospitality Group, are closed until further notice.

In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio resists pressure to close public schools, arguing that schools don’t just provide an education, but also food, mental health care and other services. Closing them would make it harder for vital health care workers to go to their jobs since they might have child-care responsibilities. And, it turns out that around 750,000 of the city’s 1.1 million students are living in poverty, including roughly 114,000 who are homeless. Where would they go?

Europe is now the epicenter of the outbreak, declares the World Health Organization. Spain becomes the newest hot spot. Between last weekend and Friday, the number of cases there rose from several hundred to 4,200, with 120 deaths.

Britain has largely avoided the lockdown approach that has worked well in some places. England’s chief scientific adviser said the government was looking “to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission.”  It is, to say the least, an unusual approach. Herd immunity seems to require infection of 70% of the population. 

Meanwhile, in a North London hospital, a baby tests positive for COVID-19 minutes after being born. Trump expands his travel ban to include Ireland and the UK.

Back here, more oatmeal for breakfast. Emily and I survey our ever-in-progress shopping list. Fresh veggies are always the first things to run out. News accounts about hoarding encourages anxiety here about exactly what we might need: bacon? More Nestle’s crunch candy bars? Walnuts?

Speaking of food, time for lunch. Campbell’s veggie soup, homemade hummus and crackers, an orange, and one Quadratini cookie.

A Fox News ever-Trump fanatic, Trish Regan, was ousted from her prime-time slot after she labeled coronavirus no more than “another attempt to impeach the president.” In front of a graphic reading, “Coronavirus Impeachment Hoax,” she accused Democrats of creating “mass hysteria to encourage a market sell-off” and sowing fear about the virus “to demonize and destroy the president.”

This much is true: The press pays little attention to reassuring voices. And those with a Dr. in front of their names and a frightening tale to tell get plenty of ink. A Johns Hopkins med prof says: Don’t believe the numbers they’re giving out. “1,600 got the test, tested positive,” but those are just the few who have taken the test. “I think we have between 50,000 and half a million cases right now walking around in the United States.”

If you are a medical professor who has not yet been quoted in the papers, what must your colleagues think of you? Slacker? Nonentity?

Time for a late afternoon walk. Sunny but breezy and cool. People are out with families and dogs. Still, in mid-March, there are not so very many folks around in this area of Springs. No one coughs.

Dinner: Rigatoni with roasted red pepper, asparagus, capers, and parmesan cheese. Leftover balsamic chicken; and a green salad.

Entertainment: Two episodes of British political satire, Yes, Minister, which spoofs deep-state manipulation of elected government.  One shaming episode of the British version of The Office

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